Tag Archives: Rare species

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 8th August 2016

Sugar tax will damage the Irish economy, Beverage council group claims

Irish Beverage Council says planned levy will not tackle obesity


A sugar tax of 10c on cans of soft drink will not help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council.

A sugar tax of 10 cent on cans of soft drink will increase the average household’s annual grocery bill by €60, but won’t help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council (IBC).

The group, which represents companies that sell sugary drinks in Ireland, has produced a report arguing sugar taxes do not achieve public-health objectives, and instead cause “economic damage to consumers, business and the Irish economy”.

IBC’s pre-budget submission, called Sugar Tax: All Cost, No Benefit, suggests Irish soft drinks companies could lose sales worth about €60 million a year to Northern Ireland as a result of the planned levy, while Exchequer VAT revenues could also be hit.

It said the estimate of lost sales was based on the consumer behaviour after currency market movements created a similar price gap between groceries priced in sterling and euro.

Low-income households

Food-based “sin” taxes are regressive and have a disproportionate effect on low-income households, it also argues.

“A sugar tax may be populist, but it is simply not supported by evidence,” said IBC director Kevin McPartlan.

The organisation, which is affiliated to employer group Ibec, noted that VAT was already applied to sugar-sweetened drinks at the standard 23%.

This could be lost to the Exchequer if a separate sugar tax is introduced ahead of the UK and provides enough of an incentive for cross-border trade in soft drinks, the industry argues.

The potential lost VAT revenue could be €35 million per year, it estimates.

“Any attempt to introduce a soft drinks tax prior to the UK’s potential implementation would create a significant differential to the price of products sold north and south of the border,” said the report.

A sugar tax in the UK is not due until 2018.

Britvic Ireland chief executive Kevin Donnelly told the Irish Times business podcast last month that the combination of weak sterling and the introduction of a sugar tax in the Republic before Northern Ireland “would drive quite a wedge in pricing between the two parts of Ireland”.

Denmark abandoned a tax on sugar drinks after 15 months following a loss of VAT income, which was attributed to consumers travelling to Germany and Sweden.

The Programme for a Partnership Government, published in May, listed a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks as one of a range of measures that would be used to fund a reduction in personal tax rates, such as the phasing out of the Universal Social Charge (USC). No date was set for its introduction.

A Department of Finance spokesman said on Sunday that the issue had been studied in pre-budget tax strategy papers which outlined the options for the Government.

It said all views would be considered in the run up to the budget. The timing of any introduction of the tax would be dealt with on budget day, he said.

A recipe change is needed

IBC said it “remains unclear” whether a sugar tax was being introduced “solely as a revenue-raising measure or as a health levy with a related strategy”.

It is lobbying the Government to abandon the tax and instead encourage changing recipes and improving labelling.

The soft drinks industry has “taken thousands of tonnes of sugar and billions of calories out of the national diet” in recent years by changing recipes and offering a wider choice, its report states.

Almost half of all non-alcoholic drinks consumed in Ireland are now low or no-calorie varieties.

In Mexico, a sugar tax of 10% introduced in 2014 prompted a fall in the consumption of soft drinks in that year, but figures from the two largest Mexican bottlers of Coca-Cola show sales began to climb again earlier this year.

The tax of one peso per litre has been a successful revenue-raising measure, however, generating more than $2 billion since January 2014, or about one-third more than the Mexican government had expected.

Social welfare deal for self-employed people being surveyed across Ireland


The self-employed people in Ireland are being asked if they would welcome an opt-in social welfare system whereby they would pay more to access more benefits.

20,000 surveys will be sent out to a random selection of people across a wide range of industries including agriculture, construction and hospitality.

It is part of the Government’s plan to reform the PRSI system and create a better link between contributions and the benefits received.

Mark Fielding, head of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, has said people will always think twice about setting up their own business without a safety net: “It certainly stops people, or it has the capacity to stop people setting up business because as an employee you have an immediate entitlement to benefits if you are out of a job.

“As a self employed person, you don’t have that immediate entitlement.

“Invalidity isn’t covered for the self employed and disability isn’t covered for the self employed.

“The difficulty is it will cost and that is where the crux of the matter is.”

Irish Government being urged to introduce e-cigarette liquid tax levy

Department of Finance says 50c levy on every 10ml of liquid could yield €8.3m annually


Four EU member states, Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them.

The Government has been told to consider introducing a levy on the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

The Department of Finance says a levy of 50 cent on every 10ml of the liquid used in the products, which are largely used by people attempting to quit smoking, could yield €8.3 million annually.

The proposal is included in a tax strategy paper published by the department which outlines a number of options in the area of excise duty.

“However, the implementation and collection of such a tax would be difficult given the wide variety of ways in which these products are supplied to the consumer,” the department says. “Secondly, as previously stated, many sources consider e-cigarettes to be a cessation tool and certainly less harmful than cigarettes.”

Safer than tobacco?

Four EU member states – Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the products have been deemed to be 95 per cent safer than tobacco equivalents. Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s department of health, said e-cigarettes were not risk-free but when compared with smoking, evidence showed they carried “just a fraction of the harm”.

However, former minister for children James Reilly raised concern about their effects late last year and insisted action would be required if evidence of them being damaging to health emerged.

The licensing system?

The Department of Health is preparing the general scheme of a Bill to provide for the introduction of a licensing system for the sale of tobacco products and non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. The legislation will prohibit the sale of tobacco products from self-service vending machines and temporary or mobile units/containers.

It will also prohibit the sale of non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, by and to persons under 18 years.

The tax strategy paper says Ireland has the second-highest excise duty on tobacco-related products in the European Union.

However, the Department of Finance said: “It should be noted the Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Conservation measures and the preservation of our rare species in Ireland

Are we doing enough?


Conservation measures to protect our environment and its wildlife have in many cases proven to be ineffective, with species still declining,

The spend by the State on protecting snails, frogs, corncrakes, and freshwater pearl mussels can sometimes raise eyebrows among a disbelieving public.

Against the background of almost weekly stories of trauma for patients waiting on trollies in hospital A&E departments and the unending homeless crisis, a combined spend of almost €1m in 2015 on only two protected birds, the hen harrier and the corncrake, may appear hard to justify.

However, the Department of Arts and Heritage has pointed out on a number of occasions that there is a legal obligation under EU law to spend the money on conservation measures, warning that if the money isn’t spent Ireland would have a much larger spend on fines imposed.

An Taisce’s natural environmental officer, Fintan Kelly, makes the argument that not enough money is provided for conservation of these protected species claiming that “due to political wrangling the money available for conservation has been spread too thinly”.

He claims: “The conservation measures themselves have consistently been watered down to such an extent that by the time it comes to implementation they cannot deliver meaningfully.”

The farming lobby is also not happy with aspects of the Government’s plan for conserving protected species.

  The Natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection.

IFA SAC project team chairman, Tom Turley, said IFA’s view has consistently been that the implementation process for designations does not protect landowners. The process of consultation has also fallen far short of what is required.

He said: “IFA has called for a proper consultation with an effective appeals system. The main concern of the IFA centres around the restrictions imposed and the lack of a proper compensation mechanism. Management plans have not been put in place. As a result, farmers and landowners have seen their incomes affected by designations with a devaluation of their land.”

Mr Turley added: “IFA has called on Minister Heather Humphreys to initiate discussions on a new process of consultation, appeals and a proper compensation mechanism. Areas that are currently designated should be examined as to whether they should remain designated.”

However, Mr Kelly pointed out: “Many of Ireland’s most threatened habitats and species are of poor and declining conservation status. In 2013 a report by the National Parks and Wildlife Service revealed that only 9% of the 58 habitats that were assessed were found to be in ‘favourable’ conservation status, 50% as ‘inadequate’ and 41% as ‘bad’.”

The hen harrier is considered to be one of our ‘at-risk’ species but farmers in areas designated for its protection have long been calling for support

He stated: “Some of our most threatened species such as vertigo (snails), freshwater pearl mussel and hen harrier continue to decline at an alarming rate.” Even once common species may not exist as breeding species in Ireland in the near future.

There have been significant declines in their long-term breeding distribution: Corncrake (92% down), curlew (89%), whinchat (77%), grey partridge (74%), woodcock (68%), lapwing (56%), red grouse (52%), and redshank (50%).

He said: “There is no evidence that there will be any major decline in pressures over the next decade. Pollution and the intensification of the agricultural and forestry sectors are threats for species moving forward. Climate change will also bring its own challenges.”

Mr Kelly claimed: “Agri-environment schemes in Ireland have in the main failed to halt biodiversity loss. This is despite vast sums of taxpayers’ money being invested.

“For example €2.18bn has been given to farmers in Ireland under CAP environmental schemes between 1994 and 2006, these schemes, have failed to deliver sufficient protection for Ireland’s biodiversity. This situation makes a mockery of Ireland’s current branding of our food and drink sector as ‘green’ and sustainable under Bord Bia’s Origin Green marketing campaign.”

The number of calling males is down 20%?

Mr Kelly said documentation which An Taisce got access to via Freedom of information requests reveal the NPWS agrees.

He pointed out: “In the documentation the NPWS expresses understandable frustration that its past submissions to the Department of Agriculture ‘have not particularly influenced the selection of measures for Natura lands’, despite the fact that the NPWS is the responsible body with direct expertise.”

Mr Kelly said that the farmers in hen harrier designated sites have been crying out for support for years.

“It would have benefited these hill farming communities and Ireland’s hen harrier population which is undergoing a collapse in its breeding population within these protected sites due to inadequate habitat management and due to pressures such as inappropriate forestry and windfarm development.”

Brendan Dunford, BurrenLife director, in the Burren with delegates from the EUFRAS/IALB (European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services) Conference in June. He says the BurrenLife programme has had a ‘phenomenal impact’ on the Burren landscape.

Mr Kelly claimed that there “is inadequate enforcement of environmental law in Ireland”. He said: “The NPWS are critically underfunded and have seen their budget repeatedly slashed. For example, in December 2010 it was announced that the NPWS’s budget was to be cut by a huge 56%.

“As a nation we need to wake up to the current environmental crisis we are living through.”

Select group of farmers get €641k for hen harrier preservation.

A select group of farmers received €641,000 from the State in 2015 for implementing measures aimed at conserving the protected hen harrier bird on their lands.

In total, since the scheme commenced, farmers have enjoyed a €13.6m pay-out. However, the payout in 2015 was significantly down on the €1.86m paid out in 2014.

The Department of Arts and Heritage regards the EU-protected hen harrier as “one of Ireland’s and Europe’s most spectacular yet rarest and most threatened birds of prey”.

In response to a freedom of information request, the department said it has spent a total of €729,000 on all measures conserving the bird in 2015.

A breakdown of the costs show that along with the €641,439 paid to farmers an additional €63,439 was spent on a national hen harrier survey along with a further €20,000 spent on scientific report.

According to the department figures, the highest amount received by any participating farmer was a Tipperary farmer who received €14,594; followed by farmers in Tipperary and Limerick who all received figures in excess of €12,500.

The highest proportion of farmers in the scheme are based on the Midwest, with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare. The breakdown shows that there are 60 farmers based in Kerry, 53 in Cork and 32 in Galway and Tipperary.

However, one of those farmers in the scheme and member of Clare County Council, Pat Hayes (FF) said that only now is the designation of lands hitting home with the devaluation of the lands in question: “The designation is having a terrible impact on land values and I believe that there should be a more long-term compensation scheme put in place.”

The largest concentration of hen harriers is in the Stacks to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills, and Mount Eagle SPA where 29 pairs are located with the next highest amount located in the Slieve Aughty mountains in northeast Clare-south Galway.

The hen harrier habitat mapping work that will inform part of the State’s threat response plan for the conservation of hen harrier.

The department has stated previously that without the traditional type of hill farming in hen harrier areas being supported, “it would be expected that the hen harrier population would decline and possibly become extinct”.

It further stated: “The hen harrier is a magnificent bird of prey and a beautiful part of Ireland’s natural heritage. The Hen Harrier Farm Plan Scheme run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht — National Parks and Wildlife Service — has been important in helping maintain and enhance habitat for this rare and vulnerable native Irish bird in areas that have experienced significant losses in habitat and where this species faces extinction.”

The department said the scheme has supported farmers to stay on the land???.

The general trend in the absence of such a scheme has been land abandonment and rural depopulation, and without this scheme it is likely more high nature value farmland and habitat would have been lost.

The department said that “in the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme payments have been made since 2008.

The farmer is paid for works done, e.g. the creation of hedgerows, improvement of hedgerows, design of scrub habitat, management of rushy/tussocky fields, change in stocking rate, controlled burning, creation of small mammal habitat, etc.”

€2.6m Burren scheme is hailed a success?

A model scheme that has paid Burren farmers more than €2.69m over the past six years to create the conditions to grow rare and wild flowers to prosper has had a phenomenal impact.

Pointing the way forward for future interest heritage schemes reliant on farmers for their success, over the past five years, farmers participating in the BurrenLife Programme have received €5.79m in payments for their role in the improved environmental health of the Burren.

Figures provided by BurrenLife show that €2.69m of those payments were for ‘the management of species-rich grassland’ where the Burren’s famous flowers grow.

Director of the scheme, Brendan Dunford — who last year gave Prince Charles a tour of a Burren farm — said the goal of the programme is that every farmer in the Burren who wants to be included will be included.

The most recent programme involved 160 farmers participating covering 45% of the protected areas in the Burren and Mr Dunford said that it is the programme’s ambition to include 100% of protected areas such as special areas of conservation (SAC).

Mr Dunford said that the programme has had “a phenomenal impact” on the Burren landscape “and the environmental health of the Burren is increasing year by year”.

  The Burren in Co Clare remains one of Ireland’s unique protected landscapes.

The BurrenLife will leave a fantastic legacy and it proven to be a very good value for money model — and we believe is the best model around.” The programme is jointly funded between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Arts and Heritage.

Mr Dunford said: “The programme has a lot of support at national and European level.”

He said that people can see for themselves the increasing environmental health in every Burren field under the programme. The success of the programme has now resulted in the creation of a new six-year programme entitled the Burren programme and it is envisaged 500 farmers will be included in the scheme by 2020.

  €2m to preserve the ‘iconic’ corncrake?

The State has spent €2m over the past four years in its battle to save the corncrake from national extinction and the number of calling males is down 20%.

However, divisional manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Denis Strong, points out that a large proportion of the monies in the scheme is paid to farmers.

Last year (2015), the State spent €338,032 in the latest round of its corncrake battle — the bird is going tough times with numbers down 20% to 183 calling males.

Mr Strong pointed out that of the €338,032 spent, €177,675 was paid to farmers: “The money goes directly back into rural Ireland and to the farmers.”

The spend of €338,032 in 2015 followed a spend of €362,111 in 2014, €597,779 in 2013, and €722,237 in 2012.

Speaking on the 2015 spend, Mr Strong said: “The scheme offers good value for money to the taxpayer. The amount spent is a very, small, small contribution on an iconic species that has been here for so long.”

He added: “It is important that we maintain that and protect what we have from a biodiversity point of view. Also, as a member of the EU, we also have a legal obligation to protect and enhance species such as the corncrake.”

The protection measures are in place as mechanised farming decimated the Irish population of the corncrake which was once widespread across the country. The bird migrates here each summer from Africa to breed before returning to the warmer climate for the winter.

The numbers of the bird increased in 2013 and in 2014 to record levels of 230 calling males before last year’s census that found no sign of any corncrakes in the Shannon Callows. The bird has also disappeared from Co Sligo, North Mayo mainland and Achill Island, and Connemara since last year.

The largest concentration of corncrake in the country are the islands of Donegal where 86 calling males were detected during the summer, including 43 detected on Inishbofin and Inishdooey. The 2015 figures show that 55 corncrake males were detected in west Connacht, including 34 on the Mullet peninsula. The bird is now confined to Co Donegal, Co Mayo, and islands off Connemara.

The corncrake is an Annex I species on the EU Birds Directive, requiring that the highest conservation measures be put in place.

  €500k contracts to save pearl mussel? 

The State has entered contracts worth more than €500,000 in a bid to conserve “our panda” — the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

The freshwater pearl mussel is present in 150 rivers around the country and can produce valuable perals

Figures provided by the Department of Arts and Heritage in response to a freedom of information request show that the department entered six contracts worth a total of €512,000 with a number of the contracts stretching through to 2017 and 2019.

The department confirmed that €38,176 was spent last year (2015) on freshwater pearl monitoring with a further €19,804 being spent on a separate study.

The most lucrative contract was won by Richard O’Callaghan, who is providing ongoing scientific support relating to the department’s projects concerning freshwater pearl mussel species.

The mussel has existed virtually unchanged for around 50m years and has survived in Ireland in large numbers and high densities across many rivers, and has existed in some lakes for in excess of 10,000 years.

The mussel can live to 120 years; is present in 150 rivers around the country and is not edible.

Authority on the mussel here, Evelyn Moorkens, says: “They are a very special species. The mussel is both a keystone species — if you lose it, you will lose a whole series of species and it is an umbrella species in that it offers protection to everything else around it.”

Ms Moorkens previously described the mussel as “our tiger, our panda”. The information shows that Ms Moorkens has scooped three of the six contracts with a combined value of €252,000. The work involves her providing, in one case, surveillance on 21 pearl mussel sites between 2014 and 2017 and in another, monitoring of pearl mussel sites in Co Kerry from 2014 to 2019 as part of an EU Life project.

Ninety percent of all freshwater pearl mussels — which can actually produce valuable pearls — are known to have died out across Europe during the 20th century.

The figures show that Philip Farrelly & Co Ltd was the other pearl mussel expert to scoop a large contract after he secured a €94,770 contract for a Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Farm Planning Protocol.

In July of last year, the presence of 7,000 pearl mussels on the Doonbeg river helped US billionaire and Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, blow plans for a giant windfarm near his Irish golf resort at Doonbeg off course.

€250k on endangered toad is money well spent, says an expert

Department spending €48,000 per year for five years on native species

Ireland could face legal action and be subject to fines from the EU if we did not take action to protect the habitat of the native toad.

The State is spending €250,000 over five years in a bid to restore Ireland’s only native toad, the natterjack, to its former glory.

The endangered natterjack is confined to a small area in Kerry and one site in Wexford.

Currently, the State is committed to spending €48,000 per annum to a small group of farmers and landowners who manage new breeding sites for the natterjack in Co Kerry.

Last year, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed that it was seeking tenders from parties in respect of a monitoring project for the natterjack until 2018.

The natterjack is protected under the EU Habitats Directive that requires member states to carry out a series of strict protective measures to ensure that the species has a favourable conservation status.

Expert on the natterjack, Prof Mark Emmerson of Queen’s University said that the spend on the natterjack toad study “is money well spent”. He said: “There is a legal requirement on states in the EU to improve the status of natterjack toads.”

Prof Emmerson said that if the money is not spent and the population of the natterjack declines, Ireland risks facing legal action and potential fines from the EU. The academic said that the chirruping of the natterjack can be heard from more than 1km away, while the mating calls of the male can be heard from great distances.

Adult natterjacks are 60mm–70mm long and are distinguished from the common toad by a yellow line down the middle of the back. They can live up to 15 years, feeding on insects.

The natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection

The current population of natterjack toads is estimated to be around 9,000 adults and it is the only toad species found in Ireland. Prof Emmerson said Kerry provides a great refuge for the toad.

A spokesman for the Depatment of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated: “Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to start restoring the toad to its historic range. This has involved the construction of approximately 100 new breeding sites for the species around Castlemaine Harbour and at Castlegregory in Co Kerry.

He said: “The ponds are dug and managed by 48 local landowners under five-year agreements with the department.

“The cost to the department of this scheme in each of the last two years has been €48,000. It is hoped to continue this scheme to the end of the current five-year agreements, subject to exchequer funds being made available.”

The origin of the long body of snakes now discovered after gene find


                                        A snake embryo.

For many years, researchers have been trying to understand the origin of the exceptionally long trunks that characterize the body of snakes. This is a mystery in terms of animal development that can shed light on the mechanisms controlling the tissues that form the trunk, including the skeleton and the spinal cord.

A research team led by Moisés Mallo from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC, Portugal) now discovered the key factor that regulates trunk development in vertebrates and explains why snakes have such a strikingly different body. These findings, published in the latest edition of Developmental Cell and highlighted in its cover, may open new avenues to the study of spinal cord regeneration.

Despite obvious differences in size and shapes observed among different vertebrate animals, they all have bodies with a head and neck, a trunk and a tail. It is the relative size of each of these body sections what makes a large part of the body differences among these animals. Still, all vertebrates develop by consecutive phases, forming each region of the body in a specific order, from head to tail.

The development is guided by genetic instructions that inform the beginning and the end of each body region’s formation. Moisés Mallo’s laboratory has been trying to crack the genetic code that controls trunk and tail development in vertebrates. In order to achieve it, they studied mice that had particularly long or especially short trunks. “We thought that the analysis of these animals could give us the key to unveil the code of trunk formation”, says Moisés Mallo.

Their experiments led to the surprising finding that the key controller of trunk development was the Oct4 gene, one of the essential regulators of stem cells. Since many other vertebrates also have Oct4, this gene could play similar roles in other animals and might even be responsible for the exceptionally long trunks of snakes. Rita Aires, first author of this study, explains:

“We had found that Oct4 is the switch that leads to trunk formation, still we couldn’t explain the different trunk length observed in vertebrates, particularly in snakes. Therefore, we tested if this switch was being turned on or off during different periods of embryonic development in snakes compared to mice.”

The researchers discovered that the Oct4 gene was indeed kept active during a longer period of time in snakes when compared to other animals. They also showed that this resulted from changes in the snake genome that happened during reptile evolution, which placed the Oct4 gene next to a DNA region that keeps this gene in an “ON” state during long periods of embryonic development.

“The formation of different body regions works as a strong-arm contest of genes. Genes involved in trunk formation need to start ceasing activity so that the genes involved in tail formation can start working. In the case of snakes, we observed that the Oct4 gene is kept active during a longer period of embryonic development, which explains why snakes have such a long trunk and a very short tail”, says Rita Aires.

Moisés Mallo further explains: “We identified a key factor that allows essentially unlimited growth of trunk structures, as long as it remains active. Now we will investigate if we can use the Oct4 gene and the DNA region that maintains its activity to expand the cells that make the spinal cord, trying to regenerate it in case of injury.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 7th October 2015

November general election most likely as Kenny set to reveal party’s key pledge

Radical welfare changes on payments to benefit working families, says Taoiseach Kenny.

 Enda & Joan joined at the hips?   

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is leaning strongly towards calling a November general election, will tonight unveil a key element of Fine Gael’s manifesto by pledging no one will receive more in welfare payments than they could earn at work.

Mr Kenny’s decision to announce the “working family payment” plan at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner will further fuel speculation he intends to call a general election shortly after the budget.

It means a November election is now very much on the cards but the precise date will depend on the timetable for getting the Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill through the Dáil.

Officials in the Department of Finance have already been told to draw up a slimmed down version of the Finance Bill giving effect to the budget changes that can be passed quickly through the Dáil.

Kenny’s speech?

In his speech tonight Mr Kenny will pledge to change the welfare system to ensure people at work can be sure of being better off than if they were on welfare. A similar commitment was included in the British Conservative Party’s successful general election platform earlier this year.

A new “working family payment” will be aimed in particular at families with one or more children.

Mr Kenny will outline how it will be targeted at low-income families by supplementing, on a graduated basis, the income of a household while at the same time incentivising more hours and full-time work.

A key feature of the payment will be to better align it with existing jobseeker supports aimed at creating a seamless transition from welfare to work for families while removing many of the welfare traps facing families with existing schemes such as the family income supplement.

The Taoiseach will outline why, in his opinion, such a scheme is needed.

“It is clear that the lack of a job in Ireland is by far and away the leading cause of inequality in our society. There are still far too many traps that lock parents in particular into welfare dependency. In many cases for couples with children work simply does not pay.

A radical approach.

“This is why the next government needs to adopt a far more radical approach if we are to successfully help jobless households back into work.

“For these reasons I expect the theme of radical welfare reform, along with lowering the tax burden on low- and middle-income workers, to make work pay will be a key election issue,” he is due to say.

The Taoiseach will also outline why he believes the next government needs to do more for households trapped in a cycle of poverty in which nobody is working. He will claim the “working family payment” will be the helping hand up on to the career ladder for many unemployed parents.

Tánaiste Joan Burton is strongly opposed to an early election. A meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night heard a “unanimous” preference from TDs and Senators for an election next spring.

At the meeting, Ms Burton repeated her position that the election should be held next year. TDs and Senators told the meeting it was imperative the banking inquiry complete its work and the legislation to give effect to public sector pay rises agreement was passed.

“There was a real sense of frustration that there is a feeding frenzy around November,” said one TD.

“It is starting to undermine the image of a unified and coherent Government. There is a real feeling the Taoiseach should come out and talk to Joan. It is starting to look embarrassing to us at this stage.”

Thousands apply for grant without paying their water bills

Alan Kelly asks Irish people not to ‘pull a fast one’ over the new water conservation payment


At least tens of thousands of people have applied for the water conservation grant without having paid their water bills, an analysis of the figures shows.

The water conservation grant amounts to €100 and was introduced by the Government to enable households to “adopt a more environmentally friendly approach” to water usage in the home.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has urged people not to “pull a fast one” by applying for the grant without paying their bills..

As of tonight, 732,800 grant applications had been received, while the number of people who registered with Irish Water by the deadline of June 30th stands at 1.3 million.

This amounts to an overall application rate of 56%.

Speaking on Wednesday, Michael McNicholas, chief executive of Ervia, the parent company forIrish Water, said that almost 54 per cent of those who have registered have paid their bills.

That percentile amounts to 702,000 people.

This figure means that at least 30,800 people have applied for the conservation grant without paying their bill.

The deadline?

The deadline to apply for the grant expires at midnight on Thursday night.

The Department of Social Protection released a statement on Wednesday urging those who have paid their water bills to apply for the grant.

The statement said a total of 395,000 households have already received their grant payment.

It is expected that all payments will be made by the end of October.

Approximately 363,000 calls on the subject have been received by the department’s helpline to date, with about 50,000 of those coming in the last two days.

Due to the high volume of calls, an additional helpline has been made available.

The numbers are: 076-1087890, 02-12065880, or 1890-100043. The lines will be open from 8.30am until midnight.

Electric Ireland to reduce home electricity prices by 2%

Move comes after Bord Gáis Energy shaved 2.5% off its residential gas prices


Electric Ireland is to reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2%.

Electric Ireland has announced it will reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2% from next month.

The reduction, which comes into effect on November 16th, will benefit the average residential customer with a saving of €24.11 (including VAT) per year.

Must shop around’

Minister for Energy Alex White welcomed the move and said customers should “shop around” to ensure they are getting the best deal possible.

“Electric Ireland’s welcome move on prices, which comes in advance of increased winter energy demand, will be welcomed by families and businesses,” he said.

“It is the second such move by a major energy supplier in recent weeks, which suggests that conditions are right for other companies to follow. This is good news and I would encourage all consumers to shop around to ensure that they get the best price available.

“Even if consumers don’t want to change supplier they can call their supplier and ensure they have the best package on offer.”

In September, Bord Gáis Energy announced plans to shave 2.5% off its residential gas prices in a move which saw the average consumer make an annual saving of just over €20.

It also announced its intention to cut its unit rate of electricity by a further 2 per cent which would lead to electricity bill savings of €24.34 a year.

Household bills

Earlier this year, Mr White held a series of meetings with the energy suppliers to discuss the speed with which wholesale energy price reductions were being reflected in household bills.

Electric Ireland executive director Jim Dollard said the company was “happy to be able to continue to reduce prices for our electricity customers again this winter”.

“This reduction, combined with last year’s reduction, means the average residential bill will have reduced by almost €50,” he said.

“We are committed to offering the best value products in a very competitive marketplace and I believe today’s announcement will be good news for our 1.2 million residential customers.”

Irish men drink and smoke more than women,

says a health survey

Healthy Ireland study raises concerns over risky sex, snacking and low levels of exercise


While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Significant variations in wellbeing between men and women and across social classes emerge from the first national survey of people’s health in almost a decade.

Men drink, binge drink and smoke more, but are also more likely to be highly active, and heavier, than women, according to the Healthy Ireland survey.

Wealthier groups smoke less but drink more alcohol in general than people in the most deprived areas, where binge drinking is higher.

The survey published by the Department of Health carries encouraging signs for the nation’s health, including falling smoking rates, a levelling off in obesity and positive levels of good mental health and social connectedness.

There are also numerous areas of concern, including high levels of risky sexual activity, binge drinking and snacking, and low levels of physical exercise.

Smoking is twice as common in deprived areas compared to more affluent groups, and levels of obesity among young women are twice those among male 15- to 24-year-olds.

More than 7,500 interviews were carried out for the survey, the first study of this size since 2007.

A reason for optimism?

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the findings provided some reason for optimism but also highlighted risks such as the prospect of a dramatic risk in chronic diseases.

The survey expresses concern that a majority of men who recently had sex with men did not use a condom. However, the study presents evidence of “more widespread risky behaviour”, with 17% of all those having sex with someone outside of a steady relationship not using any form of contraception.

“The exposure to risk for these individuals is significant,” it says.

Most of us describe our health in positive terms, with 85 per cent saying it is good or very good. Yet one-quarter of the population has a long-standing illness, and over half of this group experience limitations in everyday activities.

High blood pressure and back pain are the most common ailments, both experienced by one in eight people. One in 10 of us suffer from arthritis or an allergy, according to the survey.

On average we visit the GP 4.3 times a year, and women are more frequent attenders than men.

However, the overall figure masks a substantial variation between people with medical cards (6.3 visits a year) and those without any card (2.9 visits).

Smoking prevalence is falling, and Ireland is on the way to being tobacco-free, according to the survey. The proportion of regular smokers has dropped from 24% in the last national survey in 2007 to 19%.

Occasional smoking is also down, from 5 per cent to 4%.

People in the most deprived areas are over twice as likely to be smokers compared to the most affluent group – 35% against 16%.

While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Men drink more frequently than women, and more over-55s drink weekly than among other age groups.

Drinking to excess

The survey says drinking is a core part of Irish life and “more worryingly” drinking to excess on a regular basis is also commonplace.

Four out of 10 drinkers in Ireland drink to harmful levels on a monthly basis, and one-fifth do so on a weekly basis.

“Given that one in six of those drinking at harmful levels felt in the past 12 months that their drinking harmed their health, it is likely that many of those drinking in that way are unaware of the risks associated with it.”

Alcohol consumption rises with social class but binge drinking is highest in the most deprived areas, the survey also finds.

It uses the WHO definition of binge drinking as six or more standard drinks on a single occasion, equivalent to three pints of beer. The drinks industry considers this threshold too low.

Two-thirds of the population are not sufficiently active, a negative finding compounded by the fact that people spend on average more than five hours a day sitting. Four in 10 men are highly active, but only 24% of women are.

Physical activity is not a cure-all for weight issues, however; 23% of those who are obese are highly active.

On diet, one in four people say they eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while 22% say they don’t eat fruit or vegetables daily. Snacking is widespread, with 62% saying they eat an average of two snacks a day.

Sugared drinks.

Some 15% drink sugar-sweetened drinks but, worrying, consumption is twice this level among young people aged 15-24 years.

Men are more likely to be overweight than women and overall, 37% of the population has a normal weight, 37% are overweight and 23% are obese. Obesity is highest in more deprived areas.

The report finds encouraging levels of good mental health and reasonable levels of social connectedness in the population. Rubbish or litter lying around, and house break-ins, emerged as major sources of concern in this respect.

Rare Wood house-harmless spider discovered in Co Antrim cliffs


The funnel-web spider prefers the outdoors compared its relative the house spider.

A rare spider has been found in Northern Ireland for the first time – but fear not, it is completely harmless.

The Wood house-spider, or malthonica silvestris, discovered on cliffs at Whitehead in Co Antrim, is a close relative of house spiders that people are complaining about bugging their homes at the moment.

However, it is normally half the size of the eight-legged creepy crawlies that send many of us into histrionics.

And unlike the typical house spider, this spider – which has only been recorded in Cork so far on the island – prefers to live in crooks and crevices in natural outdoor surroundings rather than in the warmth of your home.

One theory on the creature’s movements may be that it is venturing north because of the warmer weather.

Adam Mantell, Buglife’s Northern Ireland Officer is the entomologist who found and identified the spider during a survey said: “This is a really exciting discovery.

“Not only is this the first record for Northern Ireland, but it is very rare across the rest of Ireland too.

“With two out of three of our bugs in decline and so much wildlife disappearing from our countryside, it’s brilliant to have some good news for once, and add another spider to the list of species found in Northern Ireland.”

Sneezing Monkeys & ‘Walking Fish’ are a fascinating new species discovered


A monkey that sneezes whenever it rains, a fish that can survive out of water for four days and a venomous pit viper that is as lovely to look at as a piece of jewelry: These are just a few of the hundreds of new species discovered over the past few years in the diverse but highly threatened region of the east Himalayas.

Between 2009 and 2014, scientists discovered a total of 211 new species in the region, which stretches from central Nepal in the west to Myanmar in the east and includes the kingdom of Bhutan, as well as parts of northeast India and southern Tibet.

An average of 34 new plant and animal species have been discovered annually in the region for the past six years, according to a newly released report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“I am excited that the region — home to a staggering number of species including some of the most charismatic fauna — continues to surprise the world with the nature and pace of species discovery,” Ravi Singh, CEO of WWF-India and chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement. [101 Animal Shots You’ll Go Wild Over]

‘Charismatic fauna’

Among the most impressive new species included in the WWF’s report is the sneezing monkey, which scientists nicknamed “Snubby.” The unusual critter lives in a remote region in northern Myanmar, an area of rugged mountains and dense forests. Snubby has an upturned nose (hence its nickname) that has a tendency to collect rainwater, causing the black-and-white–hued monkey to sneeze when it rains. To avoid sneezing fits, the animals spend rainy days with their heads tucked between their knees, according to the WWF.

Northern Myanmar is also home to a tiny but terrifying new species of fish, Danionella dracula, which is the size of a minnow but has pointy fangs jutting out from its jaws. Another strange fish from the eastern Himalayas is Channa andrao, a snakehead fish with some truly strange qualities. The vibrant blue fish can “walk” on land by wriggling around on its belly. The fish’s ability to breath air means it can live on land for a few days before returning to its freshwater habitat.

The only new reptile discovered in the eastern Himalayas since 2009, the bejeweled lance-headed pit viper (Protobothrops himalayansus), is also something special. Even if you don’t like snakes, it’s hard to deny this venomous serpent’s beauty. The reptile’s striking, diamondlike pattern and red-brown coloration give the snake a bejeweled quality.

‘At a crossroads’

All of these newly discovered species may sound like great news to anyone who appreciates biodiversity, but the WWF report also highlights the many threats facing the east Himalayas. Perhaps the most pressing is climate change, with the threat of habitat loss caused by deforestation, development and overgrazing not far behind.

Only 25 percent of the original habitats in the region remain intact, according to the WWF report, which found that rapid development has affected the vast majority of the region’s lands.

“The eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads. Governments can decide whether to follow the current path towards fragile economies that do not fully account for environmental impacts, or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development,” Sami Tornikoski, leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement.

In total, the Himalayas are home to an estimated 10,000 plant species and 300 mammal species. Nearly 1,000 different species of birds call the region home, along with hundreds of species of reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish. In the new WWF report alone, more than 130 new species of plants were discovered in the area.

The challenge that organizations like the WWF face is to both conserve the species that scientists have already identified and protect a region that likely shelters even more creatures and plants waiting to be discovered.

News Ireland daily BLOG

The ruling on Irish Water is a minor setback?


The Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s description of the EU’s surprise ruling on Irish Water as a “minor setback” has come under fire for being out of touch with reality.

The utility’s plans for massive borrowing were thrown into disarray when the agency Eurostat insisted it was not independent of Government debt.

The ruling meant money raised on the markets in order to finance an ambitious repair programme would have to be lumped in with State debt.

However, Mr Varadkar insisted this was just a “relatively minor setback.”

Clare TD Michael McNamara — who hopes to stand again as a Labour candidate in the general election despite having the whip taken away from him for voting against Government policy on the Aer Lingus sell-off — warned Mr Varadkar was not facing facts.

“He is absolutely wrong. The only way you could take that view is if you were looking at the HSE everyday, then Irish Water might seem fine to you.

“Eurostat basically said this is doing nothing new, Irish Water is controlled by the State, and the Government is meddling in it,” Mr McNamara said.

Mr Varadkar claimed Eurostat would reverse its decision next year when more people had paid up.

“It’s still a work in progress. There’s no doubt that Eurostat’s decision was a setback. It’s probably a temporary one though,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I think Irish Water is the right thing to do. First of all because metering allows us to identify leaks and actually fix them now; it also promotes conservation, people using less water; it’s giving us the revenue stream that we need to invest more in water infrastructure which was neglected for decades.

“What’s gone against us is the way we account for it in public accounts and as I say that can change next year. As you know 48% of people have paid already and I do think that will rise.”

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Barry Cowen said the Irish taxpayer was €785m worse off because of Irish Water.

“When the Government unveiled the Water Conservation Grant last year it was clearly designed to try and help Irish Water pass the Eurostat test. This plan has backfired spectacularly,” he said.

“The Government is wasting €5m per annum on administrating the Water Conservation Grant. This is money which could be spent on improving water infrastructure, but instead it is being spent on a pointless grant which has failed in its key objective of helping Irish Water pass the Eurostat test.

“The fact is that not an extra cent is being spent on water infrastructure above the €500m per annum Fianna Fáil spent in Government. The establishment of Irish Water has been a costly mistake for Irish taxpayers. The super quango is swallowing vast quantities of public money on a daily basis while giving little in return when it comes to improving the quality of our water infrastructure.

“Just what exactly is the purpose of the Water Conservation Grant considering it is unlikely to lead to water conservation and has not led to Irish Water passing the Eurostat test?

“Irish Water is set to cost the Government up to €70m this year alone. It is time to abolish the super quango instead of throwing more good money after bad,” Mr Cowen said.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty demanded more transparency on Irish Water’s finances.

Maíria Cahill calls on Dublin to examine abuse claims


Mairia Cahill who was abused by senior IRA man and later subjected to a ‘kangaroo court’.

Maíria Cahill arriving for talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings last year,

Maíria Cahill is calling for Dublin to appoint a legal expert to investigate the alleged cover up of the sexual abuse of children.

Ms. Cahill was speaking at the Gerry Conlon memorial lecture entitled “Justice for Victims of Abuse” she delivered on Saturday evening at St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road in west Belfast, as part of Féile an Phobail.

The festival event, chaired by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood, was organised to explore how victims can be let down by the justice system and their own communities.

Ms Cahill came to public attention during a BBC Spotlight programme where she alleged she had been sexually abused by a senior IRA figure and later subjected to a “kangaroo court” investigation by republicans.

The west Belfast woman, whose great-uncle Joe Cahill was one of the founders of the Provisional IRA, pursued the matter through the courts but the case collapsed when she withdrew her evidence after losing faith in the Public Prosecution Service.

In May, a report by Kier Starmer – former chief of the Crown Prosecution Service, now a Labour MP – concluded it was “almost inevitable” that Ms Cahill, and two other alleged victims decided to withdraw their evidence. Following the publication of the independent review the director of the PPS in the North, Barra McGrory, apologised to the three women.

“My case isn’t unique and I know this from speaking to people since I went public,” she told the Féile audience of around 100 people on Saturday.

“I am now calling on the Irish government to put in place, without delay, a person of legal standing to conduct a special investigatory report, more commonly known as a scoping exercise, to help uncover the IRA and Sinn Féin members actions when it came to the cover up of child sexual abuse.”

She added: “There are many victims of abuse who never make it to the media to tell of their experiences.

“Those victims hurt just as much and in some cases more by suffering in silence but when victims and survivors go public we know that, as in my case, calls to rape crisis centres increases and other victims feel compelled to speak out about their cases.

“We should always encourage them to do so.”

Ms Cahill was critical of the criminal justice system, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and other party figures, members of her extended family and elements of the republican community.

She claimed Sinn Féin could not speak with credibility on the issue of child sexual abuse until it went beyond addressing sexual abuse by republicans in general terms.

“They need to admit that the IRA investigated my abuse against my wishes,” she said.

“They need to confirm explicitly that I was brought into a room with my rapist and three individuals from the IRA and that is my bottom line.

“And until they admit that they can never speak credibly on the issue of child sexual abuse again.”

Ms Cahill spoke of a “cover up” and also said that before and since speaking publicly about her life experience she had been made aware of allegations of people being raped at gunpoint and threatened with death, as well as alleged abusers being “moved on without a thought for the next child”.

Following the event Ms Cahill told The Irish Times some IRA members were among the audience at St Mary’s. “They kept themselves fairly quiet,” she said. “They will bring it back again. That’s the way it goes.”

She also said speaking at Féile had helped “lay ghosts to rest” and brought her some comfort. “It was important to do,” she said.

Being a perfectionist may stress you out!


Perfectionists who constantly worry about making mistakes and letting others down may sabotage their success at work, and even develop health problems, a new study has found.

In the first meta-analysis of the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, researchers analysed the findings from 43 previous studies conducted over the past 20 years.

They found that concerns about perfectionism can sabotage success at work, school or on the playing field, leading to stress, burnout and potential health problems.

Researchers, however, said that perfectionism is not all bad. One aspect of perfectionism called “perfectionistic strivings” involves the setting of high personal standards and working toward those goals in a pro-active manner.

These efforts may help maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout, the study found.

The dark side of perfectionism, called “perfectionistic concerns,” can be more detrimental when people constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards, said lead researcher Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology at York St John University in England.

Previous research has shown that perfectionistic concerns and the stress they generate can contribute to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, fatigue and even early mortality.

“Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” Hill said.

“It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster,” Hill said.

The study found that perfectionistic concerns had the strongest negative effects in contributing to burnout in the workplace, possibly because people have more social support and clearly defined objectives in education and sports.

“People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” Hill said.

“Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help,” Hill said.

Most people display some characteristics of perfectionism in some aspect of their lives, but perfectionistic strivings or concerns may be more dominant.

The development of a personality profile that identifies perfectionistic concerns might be a valuable tool in detecting and helping individuals who are prone to burnout, the study noted.

The future kitchen in an age of scarcity


Americans these days line up to buy iPhones, but half a century ago, they were flocking to see gleaming, futuristic prototypes of kitchen appliances. General Motors’ Kitchen of Tomorrow, part of a traveling exposition of the company’s products, featured an Ultrasonic Dishwasher and an Electro Recipe File.

Cooking technology was a matter of geopolitical importance. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev argued about whose nation had better dishwashers during the president’s 1959 visit to Moscow.

Things that seem mundane now excited our parents and grandparents’ imaginations. Their enthusiasm is understandable:

Rapid technological progress had made their lives easier, as new inventions eliminated hours and hours of menial labor. Many of them would have been used to hauling and chopping firewood for cooking. Stoves and electricity gradually entered U.S. homes over the first half of the 20th century, according to data compiled by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm in The New York Times. The refrigerator transformed the American kitchen even more quickly, replacing the icebox. In 1930, fewer than 10 percent of households had a refrigerator. Nearly all did by 1960.

Since the introduction of the microwave in the 1970s and 1980s, though, kitchens have changed little, despite the advertisers’ promises. Industrial designers are still thinking about the future of the kitchen, but the contrasts between their prototypes and older ones show how much Americans’ outlook has darkened.

A case in point is IKEA’s Concept Kitchen 2025, which went on display earlier this year in Milan. The designers incorporated a 40 percent increase in the cost of food into their prototypes, along with constraints on energy, water and living space. They wonder whether the world will be able to sustain its eating habits, especially its taste for meat. General Electric’s designers had similar concerns in mind when they unveiled a model kitchen two years ago. Instead of a world of leisure, these corporations are preparing for a hungry, thirsty, crowded future.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer collaborated with design students and the design firm IDEO to design a sink that separates wastewater for the sewer from gray water for reused for washing dishes and irrigation. Their miniature refrigerators communicate with transmitters printed on the food’s packaging to regulate the temperature, so that the appliances don’t waste energy keeping food inside colder than necessary.

Like the Kitchen of Tomorrow of an earlier generation, some aspects of IKEA’s Concept Kitchen seem disconnected from real cooking. The most precious resource in any household isn’t food or water, but time. Convenience is an important reason that families eat so much meat and processed food, even though they require more resources to produce and are more expensive as a result. Vegetables require soaking, washing and careful planning — they don’t keep well, no matter how intelligent your refrigerator. If they spoil, a family will have to make another trip to the grocery store.

And a kitchen that is designed to help save money on food, water and energy might not change the kinds of foods that families buy, unless the design saves them time as well. Research and survey data suggest that families with more material resources do not spend much more on produce than those with less means.

IKEA’s answer to this problem is the digitized “Table for Living,” which uses a camera to identify ingredients placed on it and suggests recipes. The design seems about as useful as General Motors’ Electro Recipe File. Looking up a recipe online might be easier, or even just using the index in a cookbook. And the designers expect that drones will solve the problem of fresh produce by delivering groceries quickly and in minutes, which is optimistic.

That said, one crucial point of progress is evident in IKEA’s kitchen. American manufacturers previously assumed that women would be the ones using their prototypes in the kitchen, and women were the targets of their advertising. “What we want to do is to make more easy the life of our housewives,” Nixon told Khrushchev, who denigrated “the capitalist attitude toward women.” IKEA’s design, by contrast, imagines the kitchen as a place that members of the family share, with parents working from home.

Refrigerators and dishwashers made women’s drudgery in the kitchen obsolete. Yet economists argue that instead of spending that extra time with their children or twirling around in dance shoes, as commercials from the period implied, women instead entered the workforce.

Economists debate how technology will change the ways we spend our time in the future. Some say that technology is saving us more time than ever, even if the changes are hard to measure. Others argue that the most important inventions — the ones that, along with changes in the law and the culture, allowed women to work outside the home — are all in the past. On this view, our children’s lives will resemble our own more than our grandparents’ lives resembled our great-grandparents’, and the kitchens of 2025 might not look that different from those of 1985. And we won’t be well equipped to deal with the environmental challenges reflected in IKEA’s design.

Beluga whale seen off County Antrim coast near Dunseverick


Marine researchers have said a beluga whale has been sighted off the County Antrim coast near Dunseverick.

It is believed to be the first time the Arctic species has been recorded in Northern Irish waters.

Dr Peter Evans, director of the Seawatch Foundation, said a fall in sea temperatures could be why the whale strayed so far from its usual habitat.

“A beluga whale is extremely unusual,” he said.

“It’s the first record that we know for Northern Ireland and in fact there’s only been about a dozen in 50 years for the whole of Britain and Ireland.

“On the whole, over the last sort of 10 years, certainly the sea temperatures have been generally warming, but at the same time there have been a number of anomalies where you’ve got actually significantly cooler waters and that seems to be the case here.”

There are just two records of beluga whales off the coast of the Republic of Ireland – one off Clare Island, County Mayo, in 1948 and another at Cobh, County Cork, in 1988.

“This is not the first arctic species to occur in Britain this year. Back in February, the first European sighting of a bowhead whale was captured on a smart phone in the Isles of Scilly,” Dr Evans said.

“In that instance it was thought that the fragmentation of floating ice may have resulted in whales typically associated with pack ice, straying much further south.

“Whether the same has occurred in the case of this beluga is not clear but sea temperatures have been unusually low this summer.”

News IRELAND daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 29th January 2015

Thousands lose power across Donegal as strong winds hit the Northwest of Ireland.


 Met Eireann has issued an orange wind weather warning for Donegal with conditions set to worsen overnight.

Gusts are expected to reach up to 110kmph in Co Donegal tonight Thursday, while temperatures will also drop, which will bring some wintry showers.

A spell of rain and sleet will move down across the country from the northwest early tonight, falling as snow in parts of Ulster and Leinster.

Gardaí are advising motorists to take caution on the roads. Meanwhile thousands of homes and businesses lost power in Co Donegal.

Power was lost on Arranmore Island with over 500 affected. The ESB hopes to have the outage resolved by 00.45 on Friday. A further 37 were affected in Dungloe.

1246 homes and businesses lost power in Kilcar with service due  back at 00.45

302 lost power in Milford with the ESB predicting service to be returned by 11pm. Stranorlar was also affected, 550 without electricity, power is expected to be returned by 22.45.

96 lost power in Bundoran.

A number of homes and businesses also lost power in Ballyshannon, Kilcar and on Inch island..

Teachers’ group calls for equality review at NUI Galway


Right picture the teachers who brought Legal proceedings against NUIG: Adrienne Gorman, Sylvie Lannergrand, Roisin Healey, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington,

Female academics have filed action against university over failure to be promoted.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has added its voice to demands for an independent external review of gender equality in NUI Galway (NUIG).

The Irish Federation of University Teachers has added its voice to demands for an independent external review of gender equality in NUI Galway (NUIG).

The federation issued its call ahead of today’s special meeting of NUIG’s governing body on Friday, at which details of a taskforce to review practices on equality are expected to be discussed.

However, a group of female academics, who have filed a legal action against NUIG over their failure to be promoted, have contacted governing body members to express their disappointment at the issue not being resolved internally.

The women, shortlisted for senior lectureships in 2008/2009 and again in 2013/14, had understood the university intended to try and reach an “amicable” solution.

Recent correspondence between them and the university indicates that it intends to pursue a legal route, according to college sources. The group met NUIG president Dr Jim Browne on December 16th last, when they informed him they had were under a deadline to file a circuit course case in relation to the 2013/2014 round.

It is understood that they made it clear that they would put a stay on the court proceedings, pending a promised senior counsel review on NUIG’s behalf of the Equality Tribunal report on the Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington case.

The tribunal found in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington and directed that she be promoted and awarded €70,000. She has pledged to use the funds to assist the women in their legal action.

Separately, the university is appealing an €81,000 award which the Equality Tribunal directed that it pay lecturer Mary Dempsey last summer, after it found that she was discriminated against by the university on the grounds of gender, family status and disability.

A protest organised by students with Dr Sheehy Skeffington’s support is due to take place outside the governing body meeting, while federation members are also gathering to discuss ways to ensure that gender equality issues are “highlighted in collective bargaining and industrial relations talks and initiatives generally”.

“NUIG’s proposal to establish a task force on the matter is welcome, but task force membership should be agreed jointly with staff unions and engage directly with staff, to ensure full confidence in, and maximum effectiveness of the process,” IFUT deputy general secretary Joan Donegan said.

“The board of NUIG should set clear time deadlines for completion, which should be agreed at the beginning of the investigation.”

Earlier this month, NUIG said it had written to the Irish University Association and the Higher Education Authority to request that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) be approached to carry out an equality review of the entire sector. It had no comment to make on the issue on Thursday.

Almost 2,000 elective Irish Hospital procedures are cancelled


Close to 2,000 elective procedures have been cancelled in order to ease pressure on Emergency Departments (EDs) — a move described as “necessary” by Minister for Health Dr Leo Varadkar, who stressed that “patient safety comes first”.

“Given the level of overcrowding in some of the Irish hospitals, most of which had to be done. Elective activity is always less in January. We will need to ramp up activity: generally wards are closed during the summer. That won’t be possible this year. We will need to keep wards open, in order to catch up on elective activity,” he said.

Some 150 people were on trolleys for more than nine hours on January 23, which was still “pretty bad, even for January”, the Minister added. “We need to focus on this. It will need constant attention throughout the year.” However, he indicated that the latest numbers on influenza, which the health service had been very concerned about, did not suggest infections were increasing.

The intention was to extend Acute Medical Assessment Unit (AMAU) opening times this year to seven days per week, the Minister elaborated. AMAUs, he said, “work well and are being rolled out across the country”.

Most AMAUs are now only open five days per week and Prof Garry Courtney, the HSE’s Acute Medicine Programme Clinical Lead, is to direct the roll-out. Kilkenny and St James’s pioneered AMAUs — units where patients may be sent in directly by the GP or come in through the ED. They are sent to a special ward, where all the investigations are done in one day. The patient can then either be admitted or discharged.

The target is to reduce delayed discharges to fewer than 500 by the end of the year, Dr Varadkar has stated. “That would be the lowest ever recorded,” said the Minister. Delayed discharges are now down from 850 to near 750. He accepted that there would always be a certain number of delayed discharges — those who are in hospital and going through the application process for a nursing home.

But delayed discharges were “not really the hospitals’ fault”, the Minister said. The problem was a matter for social care and community and how these elements linked, said Dr Varadkar. “The Irish health service is not good at mainstreaming ‘best practice’ and that is a big challenge. St James’s has a reputation as an extremely well run hospital. It rarely has patients on trolleys.”

Patients on trolleys should not be a “year-round phenomenon” — as occurs in some hospitals  though there would always be surges, in the Minister’s view. Yet no patient should ever have to spend more than nine hours on a trolley waiting for a bed. “Aside from the discomfort, loss of privacy and dignity, it is a patient safety risk particularly for the frail elderly,” Dr Varadkar added.

“Even though the situation is much improved, we are, of course, not out of the woods yet and looking back at previous years we have seen peaks in trolleys and overcrowding at various points in the year, including February 2011, March 2012 and May 2013,” said Dr Varadkar during Oireachtas Private Members business. “It is clear that a sustained focus will be required throughout the winter and into the summer.”

The future of internet big data could be good for your health


Exploiting today’s information mountain is not all about online commerce: one of Europe’s largest analytics centres is advancing the area of ‘connected health

The Internet of Things is attempting to join together your television, car, computer and just about anything else that can generate or use data.

The world is in data overload. The information superhighway was built and we are now struggling to handle the big data mountain that it delivered.

But what started as a problem has now become an opportunity. Researchers and companies have realised that if you mine that data, you get useful information with an inherent value.

Finding novel ways to exploit this morass of big data is the challenge faced by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. The centre, established in July 2013, was formed from five existing research centres that were set up several years ago.

Through a combination of good people, good planning and a degree of good luck, these five were all working on different aspects of big data, explains Prof Mark Ferguson, director-general of Science Foundation Ireland, the body that funded these centres.

So it was an easy decision to pull them together into a single research entity under one banner. Insight includes four university partners: University College Dublin, NUI Galway, University College Cork and Dublin City University. It attracted €58 million from Government coffers and another €30 million from industrial partners, making it the largest investment in a single research centre in the history of the State.

We swim through a deepening ocean of data, collected from cinemas, supermarkets, websites, social-media companies and businesses. The Internet of Things is attempting to join together your television, car, computer and just about anything else that can generate or use data.

“There is data everywhere. We have gone from a data-poor to a data-rich society and you need to analyse and create value out of it. It is a huge opportunity,” says Prof Ferguson.

At the Google level

Insight is now one of the largest data analytics centres in Europe. It involves the work of 350 researchers; with a team like that, “we are at the Google level” for data analytics, says Prof Barry Smyth, a director of Insight and investigator based at UCD’s school of computer science and informatics.

“It is not just big data for big companies; it is about empowering the citizen,” he says. “But individuals need to have the right to control the data and how it is used.”

Certainly mining this data helps online retail, advertising and commerce. But big data also holds much promise in “connected health”, he says. “This involves helping people to live healthier lives. This taps into wearable devices, activity monitors. They are counting steps, watching sleep patterns.”

Imagine a visit to the GP who has details from that day but also a year’s worth of stored activity data. The picture changes from a snapshot to a proper portrait and improves the doctor’s assessment.

Dr Brendan Marshall is a biomechanist at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Dublin, a company involved with Insight. He analyses how people move and how that relates to the injuries they develop.

“We can look at injury risk factors and are looking to Insight to analyse our data in novel ways,” he says. He can analyse single aspects of movement, but with data mining and mathematics from Insight he can get the big picture. “It is real-world stuff and it is happening now. It is not just for the future,” he says.

Prof Smyth gives another scenario of how connected health might work. You visit your physiotherapist, who gives you pages describing exercises. But what if, instead, you were given a computer game in which you were the main character, and the movements you make in the game equate to the movements necessary to achieve the goals of the exercises?

For years, scientists at DCU and elsewhere have been tracking movements using wearable sensors, GPS locators and accelerometers. Our rugby internationals are wired up with some of this technology, which also monitors physical performance and radios it back to a central system even as they play.

Mathematics is the tool used to extract useful information from raw data, says Prof Smyth. “We are using statistical techniques, machine learning and data mining. We start with numbers and then begin to see correlations and patterns,” he says. “It can help you make predictions and make better decisions.”

Big data is here to stay. “There were seven billion smart devices in the world last year, but this is expected to reach 14 billion this year,” says Oliver Daniels, chief executive of Insight. “This could hit 150 billion by 2020. There are issues around the privacy and ownership of that data. People are concerned about ‘big brother’ as well as big data,” he says.

Even so, Ireland will have to get ahead of the curve and make predictions about where big data will go in the future, he says. “Insight wants to help shape how we go forward and how our economy will benefit.”

Dementia care in Irish Nursing Homes severely lacking


(right picture) Kathleen Lynch TD Minister of State, Department of Health and Department of Justice, Equality & Defence with responsibility for Disability,Older People, …

Almost 90% of nursing homes in Ireland have no dedicated dementia care units, despite the increasing number of people living with this condition, a major new survey has found.

According to a new report based on the survey findings, dementia is currently ‘one of the biggest challenges facing global healthcare and health economies’.

Around 48,000 people in Ireland have dementia and this figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years,

Yet little information on the state of dementia care nationally is available. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) decided to survey the country’s nursing homes to see what dementia services they offered.

Just over 600 nursing homes were approached to take part and almost eight in 10 participated. However among these, just 54 (11%) stated that they offered dementia-specific care in specialist care units (SCUs). In other countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, some 33% of nursing homes offer this type of care.

The survey also revealed that SCUs have developed in ‘an arbitrary, fragmented and uncoordinated manner’, with half of all SCUs located in just five counties and some counties, including Sligo, Carlow and Kilkenny, offering no specialist provision at all.

Meanwhile, the average number of residents with dementia living in SCUs was 19, ‘a figure way in excess of best practice norms’.

For people waiting for admission to an SCU, there were big variations depending on the location, with waiting times particularly long in Leinster where there are far fewer SCUs.

The survey also found that over 60% of specialist dementia services were provided by private nursing homes, yet the private sector received significantly less funding for the care of older people from the National Treatment and Purchase Fund.

Furthermore, private nursing homes were more likely to report that all staff had received specialist dementia training. In HSE-operated facilities, just one-third of staff were specially trained.

The report stated that ‘a new funding model is required if the private sector is to be further incentivised, with more funding allocated to private nursing homes in recognition of the specialist services needed to support people with dementia’.

“Of some concern is the fact that only 11% of all the Irish facilities surveyed have dedicated dementia units and, despite an expected increase in demand for long-term dementia care arising as a result of population ageing, only a small minority of Irish nursing homes intend opening dementia units,” said the report’s lead author, Associate Prof Suzanne Cahill, of TCD.

Commenting on the findings, Tadhg Daly, CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, said that this survey should act as an ‘eye-opener’ for the Government and various policy stakeholders.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the research findings that the complex and high-dependency needs of persons with dementia need to be realistically reflected in better resource allocation,” he added.

Megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) discovered by fishermen on the shores of Barangay Marigondon


Fishermen use a stretcher with steels bars to carry a rare 15-foot (4.5-m) megamouth shark (Megachasma Pelagios), which was trapped in a fishermen’s net in Burias Pass in Albay and Masbate provinces, central Philippines January 28, 2015.

A megamouth shark can reach to a maximum length of 17 feet (5.2 metres) with a life span of 100 years. It resides in deep waters but rises towards the surface at night to feed or eat plankton. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Albay province will investigate to determine the cause of the shark’s death.

A 15-foot shark with a gaping mouth washed up on a Philippines beach, giving scientists a rare glimpse at a species normally found deep in the ocean.

The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) was discovered by fishermen on the shores of Barangay Marigondon earlier this week. Officials with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources later told the Inquirer newspaper that there were wounds on the shark and it was missing a tail. The shark is currently on ice awaiting an examination from veterinarians.

An environmental group called Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines was the first to publicize the discovery, putting photos of the shark on its Facebook page.

The incredibly rare megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is considered the most significant shark species discovered in the 20th century, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only about 20 specimens have ever been spotted.

As such, little is known about the shark’s numbers, behavior and where it can be found. The IUCN said it is believed the shark’s range could include waters around Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Senegal and the United States. It has been found in bay waters as shallow as 16 feet and recorded offshore at depths of 15,000 feet.

Nonie Enolva of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources told the Inquirer that the cause of the shark’s death was unknown, and that the bureau plans to stuff the animal and put it on display.